Denial is the kind of film, which I feel guilty for not liking. I would never want my disregard for the film to be construed as an opposition for the great things that the heroine Deborah Lipstadt did. In fact, if anything I think her story deserved a better screenplay then we were presented with in Denial.
To begin the film Deborah Lipstadt is confronted during a lecture about her latest book on the Holocaust. Her accuser is none other than David Irving a scholar who argues against the Holocaust and thinks it is all a hoax. Lipstadt is critical of him in her book and so he brings a libel suit against her in Great Britain.
The actual trial was evidently a huge media circus. It basically put the validity of the Holocaust on trail for about 3 months in a British court. This all seems like it should be extremely compelling but there are problems…
Unfortunately, Denial doesn’t do a good job in making Lipstadt likable. Unlike say the reporters in Spotlight, she doesn’t have to sacrifice much for her day in court. Most of the work is done by her lawyers so there isn’t much emotional growth from her as a character. I feel like she is basically the same person at the beginning and end of the movie. She also could be more grateful of the free labor she is getting from her lawyers but instead she is kind of judgemental of them and their motives.
Rachel Weisz is a good actress but I always felt Lipstadt was kept at a distance from us. Maybe it would have helped to have a diary or a friend she was emailing or something to make it feel more real and challenging.
The lawyers are played by Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott. They do a good job but unfortunately the screenplay also does a poor job showing their journey. We don’t see them building the case or the ‘ah ha’ moments we need to get invested in the trial. Their greatest challenge seems to be getting Lipstadt to shut up and let them do their job. Not exactly compelling.
Timothy Spall is also very one note as David Irving. I was reminded of the movie Breach where Chris Cooper plays a double agent brilliantly. He is presented as a loving father and friend, so his ultimate betrayal is devastating. There is little to no attempt to create this kind of character journey for Irving. If we saw him as a good man in other settings that would have made his rationalizations of Nazism all the more shocking and his take-down more thrilling.
As it is, the courtroom scenes are extremely predictable and more than a little dry. I nodded off more than once.
I have a friend who felt Sully was tedious but at least I felt that movie had something to say about our need for heroes and the media in a post-9/11 world. Plus, Tom Hanks had a character arc through the course of the movie. I at least found Sully much more compelling than Denial.
Some reviews I’ve read have compared the trial in Denial to Donald Trump and his half-truths and lies, but I think this is a stretch at best.
Mostly Denial is just kind of boring and forgettable despite the best efforts of its cast.
In the end, a worthy true story with a weak screenplay.
Overall Grade- C-